Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Give Greece & Greeks a chance!

This slightly off-topic...But it pains me deeply when some Greek-Americans are so fast to criticize Greece, especially without a real understanding/appreciation of the Greek reality. Many times when I lived in Greece, they came to visit and criticized (and still criticize) life in their home country.  Subsequently, they went off over decades to organize Greek Festivals at their churches to extol their Greekness.  What's up with that?

And there is sometimes a genuine lack of compassion, especially now in one of the darkest economic times since before WWI when many of our relatives left Greece for a better life and after WWII/Civil War when 600,000 Greek lost their lives. Some have called the current situation even worse for the average Greek family. And while some Greek-American entities have risen gallantly to the occasion, others still work on a myriad of charitable projects that do NOT include help for their home country. What's up with that?

The European austerity demands/agreements have created a grave humanitarian crisis. 27% unemployment is just the tip of the iceberg.  Pensions have been slashed and many have long lost their health benefits, giving rise to serious health problems. Too many Greek schoolchildren go to school hungry and suffer from malnutrition. Hostility to people fleeing warn-torn areas like Syria/Iraq and also desperately needing social services created added social unrest precipitated by the fascist-like Golden Dawn party. There is a serious uptick in suicides.  This isn't an embarrassment; it's a disaster!

Now there is a new, democratically-elected government that aims to shake things up, not unlike other political movements in Europe dealing with crippling austerity crises. The Syriza Party slogan was "Hope is coming!" So is it any wonder that Greeks voted for a party that promised free electricity for 300,000 households below the poverty line, food stamps, free health care, special bus passes, and wage increases?  As President Obama said in his State of the Union message last week, "If you think you can live on less than $15,000 a year, try it!"  The Greek minimum monthly wage in December was 683.80 Euros or $9961 annually (then), if you had a job. Fewer than an outright  majority of Greeks voted to back Syriza* -- but surely all Greeks feel the pain and see the urgent need for change. 

This is not to say that Greece should renege on their agreements with the European Union and leave the Eurozone, or that Greeks (especially those with money) shouldn't pay their taxes, or that reforms that have begun to make sure this doesn't happen again should be abandoned.  But Alexis Tsipras is no dummy, and he will quickly learn -- like presidents Bush and Obama did -- that governing in the 21st Century is far more difficult than running a political campaign. 

I really hope that Greece's new government can renegotiate the now clearly destructive austerity package and deliver more than just hope. Meanwhile, Greek-Americans  and others all along the political spectrum must give Greece and Greeks a real chance -- meaning moral and economic support, not condemnation for past political mistakes -- as they embark on a very difficult path in troubled Eurozone waters. The bottom line is the restoration of human and national dignity, but first to put some feta cheese and baklava back the dinner tables. Surely you can relate to that.

* European parliamentary elections are proportional in nature often calling for coalition governments, not winner-take-all like the U.S. And Syriza, characterized as "far left," is itself a somewhat complicated coalition of 13 radical groups no longer including the now adversarial, hard-core KKE Communist Party. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What's in the name Vasiliki? Bessie OR Bella, for starters!

Working on family trees has been both exhilarating and totally frustrating. Tracking down who was related to whom can be torture if you don't know both the original given name AND the Americanized version, which may or may not make sense.

"Thea Vasilo" (aka Bella)
Bessie Pappas, for example, was a Vasiliki. On the otherhand, Vasiliki ("Thea Vasilo") Sarris Xepoleas -- who lived in Stockton circa 1920-1925 -- took the name Bella, according to phone directories. When I asked Angela Gibson what her aunt Bella Mitchell/Metaxas' given name was, she answered Vasiliki. So there you have it!

I have mentioned that my Papou George Sarris had a candy store in Crockett, CA, that he bought from his brother Louis. Who? He did not -- according to my list from his village Kyparissi, Lakonias -- have a brother (or half-brother, as has recently been suggested) named Louis. I did locate a Louis who lived in Crockett, but still the name was perplexing. Then it hit me!

Papou Sarris (right)
w/brother Ilias/Louis?
I lived in Greece for 10 years and knew NOT a single soul named Louis! Indeed there seems to be no such given Greek name. If you know a Louis or a Louie -- liked my Nouno's brother Louie Lekos (Lekaki) -- it is someone with a given a name that might have sounded a bit like Ilias. My Papou did have a brother named Ilias, and my Googling has found a couple of Iliases that became Louis in this country. Aha!

A common MYTH is that names were changed at Ellis Island. NOT TRUE, according to "Who do you think you are?" (A companion to the NBC series). Ellis Island was staffed by people who spoke many languages and "were mostly checking names against lists generated at the port of departure" (p. 14). Immigrants changed or shortened their names later to fit in. And according to The Guinness Book of Names (7th Edition), Louis was the 15th most popular name for boys in 1900 (p. 70).  

Louis Sarris mystery solved? We'll least we are getting a lot closer!

NOTE: That Name Game somewhat explains why we grew up thinking that our other papou's name was Xenophon Xanttopoulos, when his name on ALL paperwork-- including immigration papers and death certificate -- is Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos. This may have been a Yiayia Pauline effort to substitute/perpetuate a more classic, familiar Greek name beginning with X, even though my Papou himself (whom I never met) seemingly never used it. Even the 1932 San Francisco phone book listed him as Xanthoulis (spelled "Xantholes"), a name I actually found on Facebook recently belonging to someone in England. I had heard that Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos (father Efstathios) was most likely born around 1890 in Saranta Ekklisies.  I have now discovered that this town is actually in Eastern Thrace not far from the Black Sea (Asia Minor) and was inhabited by many Greeks from ancient times to the Ottoman Empire, until the exchange of populations in 1923. It is now Kirklareli, Turkey. Stay tuned!